Pooja Sharma-Jones has over 18 years of luxury and high-end F&B, retail and hospitality marketing experience, working for some of the world's most successful lifestyle and restaurant brands including Soho House, Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty.
Since 2016 to 2020, Pooja ran her own F&B/Hospitality marketing consultancy, supporting restaurants & drinks brands lead successful marketing campaigns to accelerate and leverage their brand position as well creating opportunities for sales growth. One of her clients was Mocktails whom she consulted for for 8 months and she was asked joined the multi award-winning, alcohol-free cocktail brand full time as Chief Marketing Officer in September 2021.
Dawn Davies is the Head Buyer of Speciality Drinks Group.
During her time in Edinburgh University where Dawn studied Social Anthropology, she worked in a bar to fund her social life and this is where Dawn fell in love with the hospitality industry. Davies graduated in 2000 then went on to work full-time for a year as a bar manager. After a year, Dawn got itchy feet and embarked on a world tour, taking the opportunity to eat in great restaurants and taste amazing wines.
On her return to London in 2002 Davies decided I wanted to work in a top London restaurant so applied for a job at a restaurant called Mju; it was here that she started her career with wine. Over the next three years, Dawn started to make a name as a sommelier in London, working as a head sommelier at Zuma Restaurant, Gordon Ramsey’s Boxwood Café and The Square, a two-Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair. The last restaurant she worked for, the one she was most proud of, was the Ledbury which Davies opened and ran for two years and gaining a Michelin star during that time.
When Dawn left the Ledbury, she was approached to join Selfridges as the Head Wine and Spirits Buyer. There she learnt about the spirits business as well as wine. During that time, we won four awards for our wine and spirits department and achieved her Master of Wine in 2015. Dawn left Selfridges in 2015 to join Speciality Drinks as their buying director, where she is today.
Here is where I really sunk my teeth into the spirits category developing a real passion for rum, cognac, agave spirits and of course whisky. During my time here I have also taken on the running of our many shows as well as heading up the shop teams.
As a woman in a senior buying role in a typically male dominated industry, what’s been the biggest challenge you have faced and overcome? Or are there still challenges you face?
I have been very lucky that over the years I have had so much support from the majority of the males in the industry who have been generous with their time and their knowledge. In the beginning when I was first starting out as a Sommelier the issue seemed to be more around that fact that I wasn’t French, rather than that I was a woman 😉. I think that I have faced very little prejudice, partially because I am a fighter and am not afraid to say what I think – I definitely was the one sent home from school for getting into fights with the boys, I am not sure how much that has changed today….. I am confident in my ability as a Buyer and in my knowledge on product and have worked super hard to get where I am today. That garners respect from people in our industry who know how much effort and passion it takes to make it in this business. There are still those that feel that they would rather deal with the men that run our business than with me because they think they will get further by doing it, but that is their loss not mine. Over the years I would say the biggest challenge I have faced has been the pay gap issue, more so because I didn’t feel confident enough to ask for more whereas men in similar positions have been more confident to ask. It took me a whole load of therapy sessions and a lot of anger to start fighting for myself from a financial standpoint 😉.
Good for you Dawn. Having worked together at Selfridges for many years, I know you don’t take any BS. How has the above experience developed you as a person and a Buyer?
I work tirelessly and give 110% of myself to everything I do. I am definitely the dictionary definition of a workaholic! I am not sure if that has been because I have always been in the minority from a gender standpoint and have had to prove myself to be harder, faster and stronger than the men around me. My feeling is that it probably more to do with spending a lot of time with the guys and being very competitive wanting to be the best I could be. More so than that I felt that I was treated differently to them. I was lucky to have been supported early on by some incredible women in the industry as well. People like Nobuko Okamura, Helena Hell, Angela Hartnett and Joelle Marti to name a few. That I had some very positive female role models and a very tough mom definitely helped me to feel confident as a woman in my business. Today I would hope people see me as a good Buyer not as a good female Buyer!
Which woman (women) do you look up to in the drinks industry and why?
There are so many incredible women in our industry that I look up to and admire people like Angela and the women who I have mentioned already, Helen McGinn who is the industries embodiment of positivity and who is making wine so accessible to all. Claire Thevenot who has just launched her own company – so much respect for going out and doing it on her own. Maggie Campbell who has so much to give both in knowledge and passion. Liz Lock the best drinks PR in the business and of course yourself – who has more attitude and sass than most of humanity combined and have been such a huge support to me over the years!
Wow I’m honoured to make the list and what are your future ambitions? You’ve done TV now, we saw you on Saturday Kitchen – does a TV career beckon?
Hahahha I would love to do more on TV but just not sure the population is ready for me or ever will be! I don’t know what the world holds for me in the future, but I do know that I don’t want to stand still I want to be able to keep learning and developing myself. I want to be challenged every day and to be creative and be a positive force for the industry. I would also like to give back to the industry that has supported me so much over the years and to who I owe an incredible debt.
You’re the Buyer for Speciality Drinks (the parent company and the trade arm) of Whiskey Exchange, which is consumer facing. Both companies pick up awards year after year and this will in large be down to the products you sell. What do you look for when listing products?
I am looking at 4 key things when selecting a product for listing – quality of the liquid and price based on that quality, packaging from a standpoint of look and sustainability, the demand I think the product will get and is it right for our business and customers.
How do you work with supplier or clients to achieve their success?
From the perspective of our customers, both on and off trade, we believe that education and experience is vital, we have 4 shows throughout the year to help engage them in the various categories – Whisky Show, Rum Show, Champagne Show and Cognac show. We also offer training and tastings to both on an ongoing basis not just to our customers but to our staff so they can be confident to go out and know their products. Not only this but we work with our suppliers to launch products, to give advice if we think a product isn’t quite right or an approach to the launch isn’t going to be strong. It is important to build relationships in this industry. We are a luxury online retailer and work hard on ensuring the customer journey is a good one. We have been working on flavour camps for whisky, rum and now agave spirits to help customers make their choices easier. To make anything successful the journey has to be strong and joined up all the way along the chain and I hope we go some way to achieving this.